Post-Super Bowl "Office": Big Platform, Wrong Approach

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Sunday after the Super Bowl, NBC presents a special one-hour episode of The Office – one designed to introduce many, many millions of viewers to a show that, despite its regular appearance on the network’s Thursday night schedule, has yet to attract the audience it deserves.

Problem is, it’s over-designed. In trying to please most of the people most of the time, this episode partly betrays the low-key approach that has defined it from the start – a start that began with an always-restrained British version, starring and co-written by Ricky Gervais.

There’s an opening action sequence – a fire drill conducted by Dwight, and including an actual fire – that descends into obvious, extended slapstick. Hey, you Super Bowl viewers! Want action? Here’s a flying cat! A Falling man!

And hey, Super Bowl folks – we’ve also got Jessica Alba as a guest star! So watch, please! By the time you’ll learn that she’s only in it for a minute, tops, and – like the other guest stars, Jack Black and Cloris Leachman, doesn’t interact with any member of the regular cast – the show will be over.

 Also shown during this expanded one-hour episode, though, are scenes much closer to what The Office is about at its core: moments of quiet desperation and uncomfortable embarrassment. Sensitivity seminars, for example, and a morale-“boosting” comedy roast of the boss, Steve Carell’s Michael Scott.

It’s laudable that NBC wants to boost The Office by using the year’s biggest TV audience as a booster rocket – but given the show’s understated tone, 30 Rock arguably would have been a better choice. Or an episode of the drama series Life, a newer NBC quality show equally in need of being discovered by viewers.